Book chronicles more than a century of D.C. baseball history

More than a century of D.C. baseball

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 9:11 pm

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WASHINGTON – It was 80 years ago Saturday that the Washington Senators won the pennant to advance to the World Series.

At the time, it was the latest triumph in a golden era that saw the team win three pennants and a world championship in nine years.

Washington baseball teams haven’t quite matched that record since. But there’s been plenty of interesting baseball history in the city, and Fred Frommer has gotten it all down in “You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions.”

The book follows D.C. baseball from 1859, when games were played on the Ellipse and President let federal employees off work early to watch the games.

The tradition of the president throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day has changed a bit over the years too. Frommer says the president used to throw the ball over a group of photographers into a crowd of players from both teams who would fight “like bridesmaids” for the ball, which they’d then get autographed by the president.

This resulted in a different kind of political showdown for President Kennedy, who went through the ritual for Chicago White Sox player Jim Rivera.

Frommer says that Rivera reacted by telling the president, “‘What kind of garbage autograph is this? You think I can go into any bar on the South Side of Chicago and they’re gonna believe the president signed this ball? Now sign this ball right.’ And the president signed the ball and Rivera smiled and said, ‘You know, you’re all right.'”

Other highlights of the District’s baseball history include Bob Hope’s trying to buy the Washington Senators twice; how former Senator teams are now the Twins and Rangers; and President Nixon’s history with the team.

Nixon was considered a good-luck charm for the team, which usually won when he was in attendance, and on the infamous Oval Office tapes, Frommer says, Nixon “schemed and plotted about getting a new team to Washington.”

And while D.C. may be marking 80 years since its last pennant, don’t forget that there were 33 years without baseball at all. Not so bad when you look at it that way, is it?

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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